Vampires aren’t the only thing biting: Lyme disease threatens students in Vermont

By Haeleigh Lange
Staff Writer

When Abigail “Abby” Bozzuti, ’22, was 4 years old, she was bitten by a tick while living with her family in Bethel, CT, which is about a half an hour away from Lyme, CT, where the first official cases of Lyme disease occurred. She soon developed joint pain, migraines, and sensitivity to light and noise. “I went to countless doctor’s appointments, had blood drawn repeatedly, and I had an EEG (Electroencephalogram) and an MRI performed. The biggest thing was trying to convince doctors that it wasn’t in my head. Many wanted to write off my symptoms as physical manifestations of anxiety and depression,” Bozzuti said.

She suffered for 13 years without being treated for Lyme disease. “My biggest symptoms were chronic fatigue, severe joint pain, brain fog, migraines, temperature, light and noise sensitivity, POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome,) anxiety, and nausea/stomach pain,” she added.

Lyme disease is on the rise in New England, and Vermont is the second most populous Lyme disease case state in the country, with approximately 78 cases for every 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“Vermont has had increasingly hard struggles with Lyme disease spreading,” said Brad Richards, media consultant of the Vermont Department of Health.“The people living here are some of the most likely to get it across the entire country due to the fact that Vermont is within the black-legged or deer ticks’ habitat, which are the ticks
that carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease,” he said.

Bottuzi said she went from a straight-A student, to one who barely graduated high school. To recover from her body trying to fight off Lyme disease, she had to take a gap year before going to college to be mentally and physically rested. She has suffered with the consequences of going untreated for Lyme disease and Post Treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) and still suffers from adrenal fatigue.

To prevent Lyme disease, Eben Widlund, Assistant Director of the Adventure Sports Center at St. Michael’s College, recommends checking your
body for ticks while you are taking a shower or getting dressed in the morning. Even if you’re not going hiking or mountain climbing, there is a chance that a tick can bite you just walking to work or school, so checking for them regularly can save you from having to go through contracting Lyme disease and treating it.

According to the CDC, the medication used to treat Lyme disease, which are the most common medications, are Doxycycline and Tetracycline, can cause someone to have digestive issues, super-sun sensitivity, muscle aches, fatigue, etc. Some people don’t feel the side effects of Lyme disease after being
treated, but others can experience Post Treatment Lyme disease syndrome, also known as PTLDS. PTLDS is when a patient experiences the symptoms of Lyme disease after months or years after being treated or even for the rest of their lives, the reason why patients experience this is unknown.

Widlund also explained that it takes at least 24 to 48 hours after having a tick on you to get Lyme disease transmission. Even if you get the symptoms of Lyme disease, it does not always mean you have it. The only way to accurately detect whether or not you have Lyme disease is by going to the doctor and getting blood tests done.

There are two common blood tests that doctors use to distinguish whether or not someone just has the flu or if they have Lyme disease. If you get a negative on the first blood test, then you are almost guaranteed not to have Lyme disease, but if the first test comes back positive, then you will have to go back and get another blood test and that one will determine whether or not you truly have Lyme disease.

Going outside, hiking and doing activities can still be safe activities, as long as you check your body every time you are done going outside into nature. By checking for ticks so frequently, you can make sure that if
you do have a tick on you, you don’t surpass that 24 to 48 hours window that passes the bacterium into your bloodstream that causes you to contract Lyme disease. If you do find a tick on you, but you are sure that it was on you less than 24 hours, for the next few days after you pulled the tick off, be aware of how your body is acting. If you are developing flu-like symptoms, or even get a bull’s eye rash, then it doesn’t always mean you have Lyme disease, as Widlund explained, it could just mean you are getting the flu or another common cold. But if you don’t develop any of these symptoms after pulling off a tick, then you can almost be sure that you don’t have Lyme disease, but if you want to be certain, then you can go to the doctors and get the blood tests done.

“My body was so worn out from fighting Lyme that my adrenal system pretty much crashed. I’m a lot better than I was, but I get tired more quickly than usual and I have to allocate my energy carefully if I have a lot going on at any given time. Every once in a while I’ll have flareups of joint pain,” Bozzuti said, when referring to her state now after not being treated for Lyme disease for 13 years.